Monday, November 15, 2010

An Accident of Geography Won't Save Us
 In Jared Diamond's impressive book Guns, Germs, and Steel the author ascribes the the fall of the Incan empire not to the superiority of the Spanish, but by the accident of geography. The proximity to domesticated animals shared throughout Europe and Asia as well as the shared knowledge and innovation by those people. This is a very simplified explanation of the book. I highly recommend you read the whole thing.

As I was explaining this concept to my class today I realized that this is how classrooms are today. Some classrooms are like the Spanish, of which the Flat Classroom Project is a great example.  These teachers are facilitating the sharing of knowledge and innovation in their classrooms.

Most classrooms are like the Incan empire. They are isolated, not realizing what is outside their classroom. They assume they are the masters of learning using the same techniques that have worked for generations. They do not even know that they are being passed by.

Now that the problem is identified, what is the solution? I think that we must not only expose our classrooms to other classrooms, we must find ways to create learning communities with them. I am not espousing "quick hit" projects where students work together with others for short periods of time. Instead I believe we need to create long term communities that share knowledge and innovation through longer periods of time. We shouldn't rely on an accident of geography to get us where we need to go, we need to reach out and learn from others.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Netflix is a Great Resource for the Classroom

My students are watching Guns, Germs, and Steel a great documentary by National Geographic base on Jared Diamond's book by the same name. My school library doesn't have this video (I looked). My county library doesn't have it either. I could have bought it, but I didn't have to because I have a Netflix subscription. I didn't even have to have them send me the disk, this documentary is one of many that is streamed online.

If you have been thinking about getting a subscription to Netflix, now you have one more compelling reason to spend the $9!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

If Your Students Posts Are Not Being Commented On By Other Students, Their Audience is Not Authentic!

I had a great and very valuable discussion with Melanie McBride a couple days ago. It centered around commenting on students blog posts. Melanie made the point that students need to be creating peer networks through their blogging and commenting just like we adults do. She wrote that teachers using their social capital to generate comments is "an artificial model of how community works...peer developed networks are what kids need to learn."

This brought to the front something that has been bothering me for a while. The original idea was for Comments4Kids to be a way to identify student work that could be commented on. My plan was and still is to have my students leave comments on these posts. Of course I like to leave comments on the posts too, but the value in the process needs to be experienced by my students too. 

Do you really believe that students writing for other teachers is any different than writing for their own teacher? How authentic is the audience when they are virtual teachers? For our students to write for an authentic audience, that audience has to be their peers. Peers that have no "educational" agenda. Peers that are reading the posts because they are interested in what the author has to write.

I am not saying you should not comment on student blogs. What I am saying is the students won't find the value in your comments like they will from another student. Make time for your students to comment.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

EdCampKC: A Rather Painful Reflection

I guess it is my turn to reflect on the unconference that was edcampKC. A few weeks before I went I wrote a post about what I wanted to get from the conference. While I really feel that my goals were realistic and that they were met, I was not ready for the let down that has happened this week. 

I really wanted to meet my online friends, and I did and they are wonderful. What I didn't see coming was the letdown from going back to my building where I have no one to share my passion with. I had no idea (although in retrospect I should have) that meeting and conversing with people face to face would mean so much to me. 

A couple years ago a new teacher came into my building. He shared a real interest in how I was using tech in my classroom. He was someone I came to depend on to talk about tech, tools, and how to best leverage learning from them. Unfortunately he only stayed one year. It was a tough transition to go from having someone to share with to being without, I didn't realize how much I missed him until this week. 

I guess what I want to express is that online connections are not a good enough replacement for the relationships we develop off line. I really want to spend more time connecting with those I met on Saturday, but I realize that this simply won't happen anytime soon. It hurts.

I have spent a lot of time and energy trying to create relationships online and to foster others creating their own relationships. I think I need to move some of that effort back to my school district. I also need to find ways to help my students learn the same lesson. There is no more important community than the one you are with every day.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Stanley Is Flat and He is Making the World Flatter Too!

In the mail Monday I had a surprise, Flat Stanley! Jason Schmidt's class in Omaha, Nebraska sent him to us. 


I decided to post the letter I was writing on my class blog and sent it out on Twitter. After Jason talked to me aand Theresa Murray, he decided to create a wiki for his class and those that he sent Stanley to.

While Flat Stanley has been around and has been a successful teaching tool for years, the ability to get almost instant information back from wherever Stanley is sent is very compelling. Creating a more permanent record is also very useful. Now Jason's students have access to the information at their fingertips with all the added benefits that the internet provides with information that can be found about each place. Flat Stanley is flattening the world!